Breast cancer screening programs can cause more harm than good, according to a Danish professor who suggests women should not get screening mammograms at all.
Medical researcher Professor Peter Gotzsche argues that for every three or four lives saved by a widespread mammogram program, there is a risk of up to nine lives lost from the harm caused by radiography and other medical interventions.
But an Australian surgeon has refuted the claims, saying it would be a “tragedy” if more women came to him with “large, more advanced cancers” because they did not have screenings done.
Professor Gotzsche told the ABC’s 7.30 program that “mammography screening is harmful”.
Over the past two weeks Professor Gotzsche has been touring Australia presenting his findings that preventative screening does not reduce mortality rates.
“What you have heard about breast screening is that it reduces breast cancer mortality usually by 30 per cent. That’s probably also what you have heard here in Australia. It’s not true,” his lecture stated.
“Those who might avoid dying from breast cancer are neutralised or cancelled out by those who are actually killed by having a therapy they did not need because they are over diagnosed breast cancer.”
Improved cancer detection leading to more treatments is a key factor in the analysis.
Over the past two decades screening technology has improved and more cancers, particularly small ones, are being detected sooner.
“It’s not a good idea to find cancers early because most of what you find on screening are over diagnosed cancers,” Professor Gotzsche said.
“Since we cannot distinguish between dangerous and harmless cancers we need to treat all of them.
“When you treat over-diagnosed women – that means healthy women with radiotherapy – you kill some of them because some of them develop lung cancer or heart disease.”
Australian breast surgeon refutes claims
But Dr Bruce Mann, the head of surgery for The Breast Service, disagrees with Professor Gotzsche’s claims.